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What It Is and How It Came to Be

It's a fad, it's a trend, it's a way of life. It's pop. It's a $5,000 Roy Lichtenstein painting of an underwater kiss hanging in a businessman's living room. It's a $1 poster of Mandrake the Magician yelling, "Hang on, Lotharl I'm coming!" taped on a college-dorm wall. It's 30 million viewers dialing "Batman" on ABC every week. It's "Superman" zooming around on the Broadway stage attached to a wire, while the sophisticates in thei r $12 seats are carried back to childhood. Its a Pow! Bam! commercial for Life Savers on TV and a huge comicstrip billboard for No-Cal glaring down on Times Square. It's lion-maned Baby Jane Holzer in a short-skirted wedding dress. It's the no-bra bra and the noback dress. It's Andy Warhol's new nightclub, The Plastic Inevitable, where three movies flicker simultaneously and a man lifts barbells to a rock beat.

So what's pop? Harvard's David Riesman ( "The Lonely Crowd") declares himself incompetent to defne it. Lawrence Alloway, 39, curator of New York's Guggenheim Museum and the man who coined the term "pop," provides the basic definition: "An affectionate way of refering to mass culture, the whole man-made environment. I wanted to remove the snobbishness in art," he explains, "to stress that even an ad could be art—entertainment art—because it was real, it was there." And Britain's Jonathan Miller ("Beyond the Fringe") adds another dimension. "A great way of being new," he says, "is to return to the old."

In short, pop is what's happening. AS NEWSWEEK'S Peter Benchley writes about it here, it's anything that is imaginative, nonserious, rebellious, new, or nostalgic; anything, basically, fun.

Pop started in big cities—particularly London and New York—and now, just as it is inliltrating the hinterlands, urban esthetes are pronouncing it dead. But never has it been more alive. Changing, yes, but not even moribund. In five years, pop has grown like The Blob, from a label for what appeared to be a minor phase in art history to a mass psyche. It has captivated the Great Society, thrived on its prosperity and exploited its restlessness.

Naturally enough, pop has turned up most insistently in those places where what's new is what sells—the world of art, television, fashion and advertising. Pop art, for example, turns both creator and collector alike into members of a new pop society. When Andy Warhol sits Ethel Scull (the wife of a New York taxicab fleet owner) in front of an arcade photo machine and snaps away, the result may be art but it also puts Mrs. Scull on the society page along with Mrs. Paley and Mrs. Guest. On TV "Batman"', is a big put-on, one running gag. But next year, "The Green Hornet" (with his faithful chauffeur, Cato) will gobble up another half hour of prime time. After that, perhaps "Wonder Woman." In advertising, the straight hard-sell is being temporarily edged aside by FLASH messages designed to grab. "Oil Man" pushes the advantages of oil heat over gas for the oil companies. "Captain Carbide" pitches Union Carbide. "Superman" sells insurance ("yell help and see how fast your mildmannered Continental Insurance agent turns into Superman . . ." . In fashion, haute couture has been replaced by "fun" clothes; airline stewardesses wear plastic helmets, and Rudi Gernreich's bright new vinyl fashions show up on a full page in that bastion of respectability —Montgomery Ward's new catalogue.

Grandada of Pop: Yet pop is not as new as it seems. Pop art, as it became known in the early '60s, was a descendant of Dadaism during and just after World War I. Dadaism was a rebellion, an attempt to jolt by the use of commonplace objects. Marcel Duchamp found a urinal, signed it R. Mutt, and displayed it. Pop is the further commercialization of Dada. As one pop artist says, "We paint Coke bottles instead of wine bottles."

When pop hit the American scene, the staid art establishment took it as a kick in the head. Lichtenstein was variously called the best new artist of the generation, and, by a New York Times art critic, "one of the worst artists in America." Pop art is natural in a prosperous society, argues critic Hilton Kramer: "People want all the prerogatives of education without going to the trouble of being educated." And Jonathan Miller thinks pop is "imposed from an elite. It is not spontaneous expression. It is fabricated, invented, manufactured.',

Symbol-Minded: To artists, at least, pop is a serious business. '`The experience of commercial art has given birth to a kind of symbolism," says Lichtenstein, "and we are unifying the syrnbols. The products and advertising in popular culture show the impingement of this expedience. Why do you think a bill or a tree is more beautiful than a gas pump? It's because you're conditioned to think that way. I am calling attention to the abstract quality of banal images."

But the artists occasionally let banality carry the day. Andy Warhol painted huge Campbell's Soup cans and other objects, and now paints his blond hair silver. "Intellectuals still hate pop," he says. "Average people like it. It's easier to understand.') Warhol's current show consists of wallpaper decorated with cow heads and silver-painted pillows hanging from the ceilings. To Ivan Karp, director of the Castelli Gallery in New York where Warhol exhibits, the wallpaper— at $75 a cow—"is an example of repetition in its most vicious form. " And the pillows "create a room environment."

The mellifluous Karp has been called "the Sol Hurok of pop art." He is an avid devotee of the form because the artists "transform banal objects. They see beauty in all things." As the chief salesman of the pop-art movement, he assembles properties and promotes them. "It's a very good market," he says. "In 1961 a Warhol or a Lichtenstein ranged from $150 to $500. Now they sell in the $500 to $8,000 class."

Just as pop artists use the crassness of commercialism in their work, so they feel they, too, can become commercial. Warhol, who used to be a commercial artist (illustrating shoes), took an ad in New York's Village Voice offering to endorse "clothing AC-DC ... helium ... whips ... anything ... MONEY!" "Instead of being a source of disgrace," says critic Kramer, "to be commercial these days is to be fashionable." Warhol has fan clubs, signs autographs, and occasionally joins the jet set that orbits around Jacqueline Kennedy.

The anti-establishment, anti-tradition, anti-formal attitude of pop artists put a dent in the stability of society, but the major crack was made by another pop phenomenon: comic books. Not only is it permissible for adults to read pulp comics, it is a sociological necessity.

Iconic: "Comics are a tactile experience," says the University of Toronto's Marshall McLuhan, who has become a bit of a pop oracle himself. "The whole culture of North America has gone tactile, iconic. Comics are a highly contoured experience. The words in the balloons aren't just words; they're icons. Comics come at you all at once—wham!"

In Los Angeles, 27-year-old Burt Blum saw a way to turn whaml into cash, and five years ago he began buying old comic books. "No one else in the world has 50,000 comics to sell," he claims. "One collection I bought three years ago for $100 has already netted me $25,000." Who buys them? Everyone. Aerospace engineers and scientists, for example, snap up "Buck Rogers" and "Flash Gordon." His most expensive item is Detective Comics No. 27 (1939), which introduced Batman and Robin.

"Batman" has made pop big business. ABC bought the property from National Periodical Publications last year, and propelled by 58-year-old William Dozier, the twice-weekly TV serial has become the hottest property in Hollywood, with both weekly episodes consistently in the Nielsen top twenty. "Everything is deadly serious," Dozier says, explaining its appeal. "One cliche in a TV show is not funny but ten in one show is funny. Pop culture is wildness, something freewheeling." Still, he says, "I do not want to devote the rest of my life to being the paterfamilias of pop art."

But Dozier's work is regarded so highly that he may not have a choice. The show has already been lauded by the National Safety Council because Batman always reminds Robin to fasten his safety belt. And later this month, Dozier will appear at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communications on a panel with McLuhan, William Jovanovich, president of Harcourt, Brace & World, and anthropologist Dell Hymes to discuss the topic "From Gutenberg to Batnan."

Art Term: Adam West, the straightfaced strong man who plays the big bat, sounds as if he ought to be a panelist, too. " 'Batman', will be considered pop culture in the time condnuum of our society," he intones. "Talking in art terms, I guess you could say that I am painting a new fresco. If you twist my arm, I'1l say that I'm the pops of film pop culture." Even if no one twists, he is already considered the top pop. BatInan was a write-in candidate for president of the student body at Ohio State University, and the Harvard class of '41 wants to adopt him as the theme for its 25th reunion. Soon, "Batnan" will be seen in England (at 6 p.m. and at 11), Japan (as "Battoman") and Australia.

With 30 mil]ion people a week being inundated by pop, businessmen quickly jumped on the Batwagon. "This is the biggest thing that's ever happened in licensing, declares Jay Emmett, president of the Licensing Corp. of America, which handles Batman merchandising. So far, 1,000 Batman items have been licensed, including mask-and-cape set (400,000 dozen have been sold at $1 each), bubble bath, jewelry, cutout kits, Batarangs, model Batmobiles, sport jackets ($38), tricycles ($27), bookbinders, pencils, pens, slippers and quilts. More than 1 million Batman posters have been sold, and some buyers have hung them in French provincial living rooms as true pop art. "This fall we'll have a bat-to school promotion the likes of which you've never seen," says Emmett. Batmaniacs can look forward to bat-tuxedos for over $50 and a Batman electric guitar for $125. Emmett and Jacob S. Liebowitz, president of National Periodicals, have turned down licenses for Bat guns, cigarettes and wine. Emmett estimates that Americans will eventually spend a total of $600 million on Batfads.

Conics have suddenly bounced back in several forms. The musical "It's a Bird ... It's a Plane ... It's Superma,m" is currently grossing $67,000 a week on Broadway, and Captain Marvel is back on movie screens in serials. And The Great Society Comic Book - featuring Super LBJ, Captain Marvelous (McNamara), Wonderbird, Gaullefinger, Bobman and Teddy—claims sales of 100,000 copies in less than one week. In the fall, Marvel Comics' "Captain America," "The Hulk," "Thor," "Iron Man" and "SubMariner" will be animated cartoons on local TV stations.

Zonk! The way to move pop products in a pop society is, naturally, with pop ads, and in the past year TV and the print media have been saturated with the "Zonk! Pow! Blam!" approach to selling. A leading pop adman is Fred Mogubgub, 38, who claims he took his name from the gub-gub sounds a Lebanese ancestor made while drowning. Among his clients are Ford, Coca-Cola and Life Savers; Mogubgub says he chooses his subject matter from "American objects which stick out from the cliches you get drilled into you in school."

Mogubgub's style is quick, staccato, jump-cut—an assemblage of cartoons and photographs that flash across the screen fast enough to be almost subliminal advertising. He was given the slogan "Have you ever heard anyone say 'no' to a Life Saver?" by the Beech-Nut people and made a pop commercial. A follow-up survey reported that the public recalled it more often than straight ads. "You have to grab them," says an ad-agency vice president. "That's pop technique. We have a young audience with whom we have to establish a rapport."

Nowhere is youth recognized as the real aristocracy of pop as much as in fashion. Gwen Randolph, fashion director of Harper's Bazaar, believes that 10 to 15 per cent of all current faslsion is pop. And the youth market, ages 18 to 25, buys almost all of it—the short skirts, textured stockings, vinyl bathing suits, hats and coats. Different designers claim credit for starting the pop trend, and its origin probably comes from a mixture of four or five styles. British designer Mary Quant ("Little Orphan Annie" dresses) was one of the first to produce simple, way-out designs. Yves St. Laurent likes to think of himself as the creator of the new "nude" look. Courreges's short skirts and his white boots added to the new look while California's Rudi Gernreich's topless bathing suit in 1964 helped the fad take off.

Gernreich, inventor of the "no-bra bra," has pronounced an obituary of haute couture. "For centuries, haute couture was based on the tastes of the aristocracy," he says. "Now all styles stem from the people, particularly the young." "Pop fashion is a younger way of thinking," says designer lohn Kloss, 28, whose geometric patterns are sewn together like jigsaw puzzles. But the pronouncements conceal snobbery about pop, a sense of superiority.

But how outrageous can pop get? Among the current season's items are: aluminum wigs, vinyl bangs, vinyl knee decorations, "neon" dresses, huge geometric earrings, and a cotton fabric being developed by Galey and Lord which will be wired for electricity. Presumably, a girl can attach light bulbs and turn any part of herself on: a semaphore of sex.

Todayness: Fashions change so fast that major manufacturers have set up divisions for pop styles. Last fall, Paul Young, 36, vice president of Puritan Fashions, opened a boutique called Paraphenalia in New York to handle the pop world of the business. By the end of 1967 he expects to gross $50 million from some 30 outlets in the U.S. and Europe. "Pop is happiness" he says. "It's todayness; the feeling we can't afford to wait years for appreciation."

For the first time since the reign of Edward VII, men, too, seem anxious to become dandies in an industrial society. "Men's fashion is becoming more ornate becanse, as women gather strength, men become rivals in trying to attract them," says Gernreich. On the other hand, it seems that men are all too often trying to look like women. On "The Tonight Show" last week, Britain's John Stephen showed off his "Carnaby Street Look." The first model was a male dressed in a red vinyl vest and bell-bottom hipsters. The audience hooted. Later, the same clothes were brought out, and the audience hooted again. They didn't realize girl was wearing them.
Is the pop movement, then, neutralizing the genders? While the homosexual effect on fashion is indisputable, it is hard to pin the label on "Batman." It has been tied, however. In his widely quoted "Seduction of the Innocent," psychiatrist Fredric Wertham concluded: "Only someone ignorant of the fundamentals of psychiatry and of the psychopathology of sex can fail to realize a subtle atmosphere of homoerotism which pervades the adventures of the mature Batman and his young friend Robin ... It is like a wish dream of two homosexuals living together." Wish fulfillment aside, mnost critics agree that homosexuality does permeate mass culture via the twilight zone of pop known as camp.

Epicene: In "Notes on Camp," critic Susan Sontag calls it "the triumph of the epicene style ... love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration." And in New York's Village Voice, a recent article titled "It's a Queer Hand Stoking the Campfire" credits the homosexuals with "guiding the progress of pop art ... making 'underground' movies, selling cast-iron lamps shaped like roses to schoolteachers, and declaring Gene Kelly-Debbie Reynolds movies . . . breathlessly amusing entertainment."

Another sub-species of pop is the love of trivia. In recent years, knowledge of meaningless trivia ("Name all of 'Our Gang'," "What was the name of Sky King's plane?") provided a smooth tunnel back to the pre-bomb world of the '30s. Now, with revival of old comic books and old movies, trivia has become a national pastime. Last month WNEW-TV in New York syndicated an hour long "National Trivia Test" as a take-off on all the other TV tests; a book of trivial questions was published early this year , and trivia contests have been held on radio stations and college campuses all around the country.

Indeed, classifying culture into its various subgroups has become a kind of trivia game. Old movies, for example are not necesarily either trivia or camp. Bogart movies are pure pop nostalgia, and Bogart posters have become pop art in their own right. Bogart is "return trip" pop: he was once so popular with the middle class that he couldn't be pop. Now he is a cult, a pop cult. The Marx Brothers are "classic" pop because they havve always been popular with everybody. Finally there is kitch, the conscious appeal to the bourgeois sensibility. "Splendor in the Grass" was kitch. So was "Marjorie Morningstar."

Superhero: From the Bogart hero- visceral, ruthless, virile- evolved the current form of the pop movie, the James Bond superhero. "It is the idea of the stylized person who is invincible and inviolate," says Ivan Karp. "He has no faults no introspection , no self realization." He is completely in the pop mainstream of anti-tradition, anti-authority. He lives for now and laughs at himself.

What's happening now is happening is happenings- where music,dancing, movies, everything happens at once and assaults all senses. They are almost pop , perhaps "min-pop," a term Lawrence Alloway uses for pop appreciated by a minority. Warhol was largely responsible for turning Baby Jane Holzer- in real life , the wealthy wife of the the wealthy four square broker Leonard Holzer- into the "pop girl of the year" in 1964. The girl in 1965 was Edie Sedgwick , 22, a tiny blond with mocha eyes from a very proper California family, who got involved with Warhol because of films and found herself a style-setter. Both are in danger of becoming "out."

Baby Jane has been seen singing on NBC's "Hullabaloo," and Edie recently signed a contract to do a film for Bob Dylan's manager. This year's girl? Some say Nico, the 23 year old German-born model who sings at Warhol's Plastic Inevitable. Warhol himself says its either Ingrid Superstar (he won't say her last name) or a girl named Mary who, he says is changing her name to Pfft.

With the Plastic Inevitable, Warhol may make happenings full-scale pop. With the Velvet Underground playing stock rock, plus the fact that Warhol will take the show to Los Angeles, Cincinatti, Minneapolis and London, it seems to becoming too popular. To AIloway, after all,the Mona Lisa is pop "in terms of fame and distribution."

Music has recently remained fairly stable in the slough of folk rock. But one new trend may be creeping across the nation from the pop state of Califorma- the consciously rotten sound. Several years ago a Clarmont grandmother organized The Foothill Cloral Society.Even her best friends told her she was terrible, but she took to cutting her own records. Last month some Capitol Records executive heard one and thought it bad enough to be marketable. "Mrs. Millerts Greatest Hits: The Miller Sound" has already sold 50,00O copies, and TV varity shows are clamoring for her- a pop Florence Foster Jenkins

The future of pop holds several intriguing possbilities. There will always be a pop culture, of course, in the sense of popular, but what will be popular? New York Herald Tribune women's editor Eugenia Shepard has found what she calls The Secret Squares- people who can determine ``the thin dividing line beteen little touch of the chic new vulgarity and the absolute dead end". Prof. fred Elkin of Toronto's York University thinks Batman is a typical fad and will join Davey Crockett in fad heaven in a few months."Adults today are under Batman's spell," he says"He allowsthem to do exciting things and to say exciting things." But gratification is short-lived. Poet W.H. Auden fears that a kind off Gresham's Law has begun operating in culture, with the bad driving outthe good.

Escape: good or bad the important question is, why pop? Why the nostalgic preoccupation with comics, with trivia, with 1930's movies? Certainly there is an element of escapism from as complex, computerized, nuclearized woirld. Perhaps significantly, the writers of the Broadway musical"Superman" rewrote the story line to bring ina physicist and make him the cheif villain. And the Bogart hero florished at a time when the individual could take direct action with his fists against the enemy. today of course, retaliation is collective, and the button pusher is buried deep in the ground.

Many people it seems, have seen the future- and prefer the past. when the Gemini 8 astronauts were in trouble and the networks interrupted their programing to switch to NASA headquarters, thousands of calls flooded the networks complaining in effect, about the cancellation of their fantasy universe. they were watching ABC's "Batman" and ironically, CBS's "Lost in Space."

Innocence: In "Understanding the Media," Marshall McLuhan ties together all of pop culture, "Theirs (the comics) was a pastoral world of primal innocence from which young America was clearly graduated," he says. "there was still adolescence in those days, and there were still remote ideals and private dreams, and visualizable goals, rather than vigorous and ever present corporate postures for group participation."

In a society that is so kinetic, so fickle, so impermanent, it is unlikely that any of todays pop values will remain for long. There may not even be anymore avant guarde. "Once it has been invented," says Jonathan Miller, "It is already in the process of destruction." Today, styles and genres change so fast that no artist can keep up with them. Already, in addition to pop, op and kinetic (which actually antidates pop by years), a movement is starting in the West called Stop Art- guady enamel colors painted on steel.

"I guess," said Andy Warhol, "it'll get so simple that everything will be art." After all, as one sociologist put it, "the greatest pop-art object in the world is planet Earth."